Child Migrants, memories, objects

Clontarf concrete

by Adele on 6 December, 2010

Concrete from Clontarf swimming pool
Concrete from Clontarf swimming pool

This is a piece of concrete, not much bigger in size than a hand. It was rescued from the demolition of the swimming pool at the former Clontarf Boys Town Christian Brothers Home in Western Australia.

Clontarf boys building the swimming pool – c. 1956

The photo of the boys building the pool was taken by Michael O’Donoghue, who used his Box Brownie camera to take not only this, but many photos around the Boys Town.

Clontarf, like Bindoon, another Christian Brothers institution located outside Perth, used the labour of the boys to build the institutional infrastructure. Michael has vivid memories of building the pool. They laboured before and after school and at weekends to complete it, using picks and shovels. Boys who did not work hard enough risked being beaten. Michael still suffers the effects of an injury he received from a blow across the chest by one particular Brother.

Violence, both physical and sexual, was part of the life of boys at the Boys Town. Some boys suffered more. ‘I was this Brother’s ‘punching bag,’ ’ remembers Michael. Later in life, a doctor asked him if he had ever been in a major traffic accident, because his body bore all the signs of such a major trauma.

These traumatic injuries were gained not only at Clontarf but at the Home in England where Michael was before he came to Australia as a Child Migrant. His mother had placed him in the Home as a young child, after the loss of Michael’s French-Canadian soldier father. Michael was chosen to come out to Australia as part of the Child Migrant scheme, although his mother had never given permission for him to be taken out of the country. He left England on his 11th birthday and arrived in Perth in August 1953. He went straight to Clontarf and remembers the shock of seeing poorly-clad boys, who to him seemed clearly neglected. He was sent from Clontarf just on 16, having been forced to leave school a year earlier, although he had asked to continue.

Michael gave evidence to the Senate Inquiry which led to the ‘Lost Innocents’ Report. He felt compelled to talk about it, to release ‘all that history inside me’, that ‘terrible repression’ of memories he had not been able tell because he had felt nobody would believe. Reliving it is painful, and brings back the memories and the nightmares. ‘I peel off a straitjacket every time I remember’ says Michael. But he feels a powerful obligation to tell, not only for himself but for others, because he can remember what some others have blocked out or have lost through trauma.